Commenter Book Recommendations: Gift Guide 2018 #3

Steve’s book gift guide will be here soon. Warning: his list this year is full of Puritan and Native American history books, because after doing lots of genealogy work, he found out his Puritan ancestors’ cousins were abducted by Indians and dragged off to Canada.

In the mean time, why don’t you all share your favorite books for the year? I’ll hyperlink your responses to Amazon. All genres are welcome.

Okay, let’s go.

Y81: “Twelve Rules for Life” and “The Three Body Problem.”

Wendy’s romance recs:
The Hollow of Fear, Sherry Thomas
The Kiss Quotient, Helen Hoang
Lethal White, Robert Galbraith
Hate Notes, Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward
Duke of Shadows, Meredith Duran
Hard Knocks, Ruby Lang
Burn For Me, Ilona Andrews
SEAL Camp, Suzanne Brockmann
Wanna Bet? Talia Hibbert
Jane Doe, Victoria Helen Stone

Wendy’s husband’s recs:
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, Steven Pinker
At Home: A Short History of Private Life, Bill Bryson
How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, Michael Pollan

John B. — Churchill: Walking With Destiny by Andrew Roberts.

  • From Sandra
  • How to Stop Time – Matt Haig – love the time-traveling story
  • Beartown + Us Against You – both by Fredrik Backman – small-town, hockey, lots of interconnected people and their stories – I think growing up in a small town on the prairies drew me to these two books
  • The Witch Elm – Tana French – A stand alone novel (not part of her Dublin series) that is the best one that I’ve read so far to tackle privilege. Great characters, writing and dialogue. A version of one of my fave genres – “getting the band back together” where you read about a group of friends and/or family over a number of years.
  • An American Marriage – Tayari Jones – from last year but read it if you haven’t yet
  • Behold the Dreamers – Imbolo Mbue – the Lehman Brothers crash in novel form from the perspective of a number of different people. A good companion novel to Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist (Sunil Yapa) from a few years ago about the WTO protests in Seattle.
  • the Dry + Force of Nature – both by Jane Harper – I’ll read anything she writes – small town Oz detective


  • From AF
  • Lincoln in the Bardo (Saunders) – really interesting and weird. I liked it a lot.
  • Born A Crime (Trevor Noah’s autobiography). Some South African history I didn’t know or had forgotten. He’s had quite a life.
  • How It All Began (Penelope Lively) – intertwined stories, related people of different ages and backgrounds, well put-together. Not a rave but a pretty good read.
  • I tried to push myself through Sing Unburied Sing but couldn’t do it – too depressing at a time when I wasn’t up for being depressed. It seemed like it would be worthwhile if I had. I did not like Beatty’s The Sellout but others did.
  • I’ve now reread Anna Karenina twice to teach it for a grad-level humanities class and it holds up. Students, including an African American campus police detective who does not read novels, loved it too. Get the Volkhonsky and Pevear translation.
  • For the same class, I poked around and found a good book on early women’s suffrage efforts called Untidy Origins. It’s fun because the author has to poke around in all sorts of obscure records to put together what happened with a small group of women who filed a petition with New York State. This year I’m using another new book, Jennifer Graber’s The Gods of Indian Country: Religion and the Struggle for the American West. I haven’t read it yet but have really liked her other writings.
  • I always get the newest Flavia de Luce and First Ladies Detective Agency books. I’m reading the current Flavia now and enjoying it. One of my friends is really into the Louise Penney series and I might start that sometime.


  • From Doug
  • The House of Government by Yuri Slezkine, as good as it is long
  • The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes, a novel about Russia that isn’t ginormous
  • Words Are My Matter by Ursula K. Le Guin, essays and insights (Interviewer: Would you prefer to win the Hugo or the National Book Award? UKL: The Nobel, of course.)
  • Any Day Now by Terry Bisson, is awfully close to being the fourth perfect book
  • The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St Clair, great as an object that illustrates its thesis
  • The Gatekeepers by Chris Whipple, how the White House chief of staff position is essentially a solved problem in politics, with an added chapter on how the Trump people managed to screw it up in all of the known ways
  • War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, definitely a late-1980s book and still awesome
  • I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett, the last great Discworld book (even though Raising Steam works better than it should)
  • Soviet Bus Stops (Volumes I and II) by Christopher Herwig, no really
  • Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner is in fact one of the perfect books
  • The 13 Clocks by James Thurber, fast and loopy and not like anything else


  • From Amy P
  • This is the most important book I’ve read in years: I think everybody who is getting married or having kids or thinking about it or knows anybody who is married or has kids needs to read that book. Not that it has all of the answers, but it’s important to know what the questions are.
  • Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West
  • Is It You, Me or Adult A.D.D. (Gina Pera has an excellent website at
  • I’m currently reading Delivered from Distraction, which is the sequel to the ADHD classic Driven to Distraction.


  • From Cranberry
  • If You’re in My Office, It’s Already Too Late: A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide to Staying Together, by James Sexton

More on Leather: Gift Guide 2018 #2

More purses that don’t suck: The Born Prisha Crossbody Saddle, Frye Melissa, Sabrina Pocket Tote, and the Fossil Satchel.

Boys always need belts, so I’m buying both my kids Timberland belts this year.

A Moroccan leather pouf is a chair! a side table! a kid’s sensory roly-poly toy! a pop of color! It’s a wondrous item of furniture. I think I need one.

Another dude gift is a leather wallet. They never buy one for themselves, and their old one is probably beat.

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Leather, Wool, and Denim: Gift Guide 2018 #1

I’ve been dumping all the cheap, mismatched, ill-fitting crap in our closets and replacing them with one solid, permanent item. Three GAP purses out, one Frye purse comes in. I’m still watching Outlander, even though the show has completely fallen apart, partially because the clothes are so good. Yes, I’m dressing my family like they’re early colonists, what of it? I’m shopping for leather, waterproof, solid, and somewhat badass, manly items.

So, that’s why I’m digging everything by Frye right now. It’s manly and solid. I’m coveting Oxfords like these or these. (Amazon) The Chukka boot is nice. I also love this purse (like correction).


Madewell also has some nice bags, including this cute leather backpack and a velvet pouch for holiday parties.

I’ve gone back to wearing my old Docs and my Irish knit sweater from the 1990s. G2014_BR6755_ld.jpeg513IUnz7G0L._UX695_.jpg


When Steve’s messenger bag fell apart this year, we replaced it with one from the Buffalo Jackson Trading Company. Yeah, it isn’t cheap, but he’ll use it every day for years on his two hour train commute. It carries his history books and his ten-year old iPod. It’s worth checking out the website, just for the cute models in plaid shirts.


Along with his messenger bag, Steve’s wearing a Barbour waxed jacket. mwx0339ol71_ss18_front_model.jpg

Yeah, these items are pricy, but they last. Canada Goose jackets are out of our league, but if you’re going to buy them this Christmas, please order them here.

(more tomorrow)

The Return of the Apt. 11D Gift Guides!

All the conditions are right. I’ve turned in an article and can do nothing on it, until the editor hands me my dignity in a trashcan, aka edits, sometime tomorrow. Steve’s home for the day, because the market’s closed for 41’s funeral, so he’s taking Ian to swim lessons. We have lefties — a rather nice pasta sauce with meatball mix (beef, pork and veal) and collard green over shells — for dinner. The hot water is on the stove for tea, and an unopened bottle of red on the sideboard for later in the evening.

Yes, all the conditions are right for blogging about gifts.

You guys know the drill. If you buy something through an Amazon link on this blog — click on the link and then navigate to the thing that you really want — I’ll get a small kickback, which I’ll use later to buy boots. It’s the books to boots circle of life.

Thanks in advance. Let’s have fun tonight!


I spent two weeks tracking down a story that I heard from a friend. This then led to several conversations with three other people. I’m weaving their stories into an article right now. Today is rough draft day.

Rough draft days are always the worse. Partially, it’s because the writing process is never easy. Collecting information is fun. Editing is a bloodless, mechanical process. But writing that first draft is always tough, and requires many treats to get one through the process.

Also, on rough draft days, I’m weighed down by crafting the story in the right way. Writing up people’s stories is a major responsibility. When I’m interviewing people, I get them to trust me, and they tell me their truths. After twenty minutes, they warm up to me and tell me everything. It’s like a priest’s confessional. There is a vulnerability to the interview process.

Can they trust me? At some point, they decide yes and tell me everything. No money is exchanged. They share, because they feel they must. At the end, I sometimes hear a note of worry in their voices. Did they really tell me all that? How will I tell their story? Will I portray them as a villain or a saint? Subtle variations of language can a picture in twelve different ways.

I sometimes think about writing fiction, but conjuring up alternative realities requires a power of imagination that I don’t possess. But I think that there is less responsibility with writing fiction, than non-fiction or journalism. Nobody can be hurt by your words. No real person at any rate.

So, I have some obligations to this blog and to the unanswered e-mail in my gmail account, but those obligations must wait. I have to do the right thing for people who talked to me and trusted me this past couple of weeks. I have to tell a story.

The Liberal Arts Are on Life Support

A couple of weeks ago, I was floating around two pitches. My usual place to publish is backed up with content, so I talked with alternative places. Topic A was quickly snapped up, so Topic B was put on the back burner. Between the Topic A article, research on a Topic Q for another venue, and multiple essays for a third outlet, I’m booked solid for the rest of the month. I have no idea how I’m going to Christmas shop or take care of other mom business this month.

I think I need to hire help, but that’s another blog post.

I’m still going to write about Topic B after the holidays, but I wish I was working on it right now, because it’s the hot topic suddenly. Topic B was about the death of the liberal arts majors.

This chart went viral yesterday.

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This chart came out of research done for the AHA conference, and shows a dramatic drop in the number of history majors since 2008. I could have told you that. Actually, I did tell several editors that just a couple of weeks ago.

(I probably shouldn’t be writing about this here, but – fuck it – I want to talk. Steve will yell at me later for being a big mouth.)

Alright, lots to pull apart here. First of all, 2008 was a huge turning point in the middle class mentality. People lost jobs. A few years later, Steve lost his job, just as my university job was ending. We were scared shitless. And so was everyone else around us. Our area’s prosperity – from contractors to accountants – is very tied to the fortunes of Wall Street. You didn’t have to be a broker to lose your job back then.

Secondly, the obvious. Nobody is majoring in history, English, and Philosophy anymore. Yeah, I could have told you that. My friends at small liberal arts colleges have been teaching empty classes for the past few years. Crickets. So, they’ve been reassigned to teaching freshman seminars or put into administration.

The liberal arts, at 90 percent of the colleges out there, are done. So, all that punditry about the commie college students and the liberal bias of faculty and the attack on free speech is just silly. Most students aren’t women’s studies majors at Wellesley. They are either business majors at a public college, or they’re hustling two jobs while taking a class at the local community college.

Third, let’s talk about majors. This is a taboo topic in academia, but I’m in a MOOD today, so here goes. Some majors are easy, others are medium, and some are hard. You are absolutely not allowed to say that in academic circles, but it’s the truth.

See that exercise science at the topic of that chart? And recreation and leisure studies? Those are the top of the list, because the chart is measuring the rate of change, not an actual number of majors. It doesn’t mean that most kids in college are exercise majors, but it shows that there has been a big uptick in those majors. You know why? (Oh God, I could get killed for saying this…) It’s for kids who ordinarily wouldn’t be going to college or were admitted and are floundering. It’s a way for the colleges to maintain their retention rates. Those majors are easy.

And those majors are a waste of time. Kids who receive majors in those fields, who lack a parent with deep pockets and connections to make sure they get their first job, end up at jobs that don’t require a BA. They end up behind the counter at rental car companies. It’s a terrible scam on those poor kids. I’ve talked with sociologists who study this.

Lastly, this is a very sad chart, because I love the liberal arts. I love Plato and Rousseau and Homer and Bronte and Shakespeare. My undergraduate years, where I roamed freely between art history and English and anthropology classes, were a brain-feast. I would take all those classes again tomorrow. I’m very sorry that the practical minded students (and their pushy parents) have walked away from greatness.

Eclectic Life

We’re up early in this house. Today, like most days, we were up around 6am. At 6:20, we were all huddled around the kitchen counter attending to newspapers, bowls of cereal, and deep cups of coffee. Not much talking at that point — just reminders about after-school tutoring and a warning that dinner would probably be take-out. At 6:45, Steve drove the 15-year old Toyota to the train station. 6:50, Ian gets on the special ed van to his out-of-out district high school. I stalled going to the gym for half an hour, but I got there and ran/walked for 45 minutes.

I did an amusing interview with an old coot later this morning. I’m rather proud that I got him to agree to talk with me. It took a little sweet talking, but it happened. He turned down an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Ed last week, so HA! I win.

I’m really loving my project right now, but I don’t think I should write about it here first. I’ll have 2,000 words coming out soon elsewhere. Then I’ll talk.

I just need to get the time to finish things off. The rest of the afternoon is shot. I have to go to Ian’s far away school for a meeting about his reading.

He’s never received any teaching to overcome his hyperlexia (super decoding skills, poor comprehension). I have asked every year for extra help with reading, since he was in fourth grade and the comprehension problems became evident. And they’ve done nothing. They just shove all the special ed kids in one room and then have them listen to books on tape. Special education sucks so badly.

There have been a whole bunch of new laws in New Jersey to protect kids with dyslexia. Our school district has had to spend beaucoup bucks on retraining their teacher for dyslexia. So, I’m arguing that Ian deserves the same additional instructional time for reading using specific curriculum. And I’m making a big stink about it.

They handle me and my demanding ways by testing and retesting Ian, by making me go to tons of meetings, and by stalling. Never saying no, but never saying yes. Special Education sucks so badly

I’m giving them one more chance. If this meeting is a waste of time, I’ll make a bigger stink.

But all of it takes time. Time away from my work. I’m going to have to make up those hours tonight. Sigh. That’s why dinner isn’t happening tonight.